Flight Centre Buys Into Sam App’s Co-Developer

By | May 24, 2017

You’re making a pitch in an unfamiliar city. The flight home is in a couple of hours, but you’re making headway with the client. Your phone dings: “If you don’t leave in the next 30 minutes, you’ll miss the flight. Would you like to rebook?” Tap yes and get back to the meeting.

Too good to be true? Yes, but it may not be for long. Proactive rebooking is in the cards for FCM’s Sam app, which already sends the alerts. For now, travelers still need to text with or call an agent to make alternative plans.

“The first thing Sam does is to ask to locate the user,” said FCM Travel Solutions France and Switzerland managing director Jordy Staelen during a Friday interview. “It’s a basic calculation between where you are at that specific moment and the place where you are supposed to be at that given time. Then we look into Google to get a traffic estimation — boarding time minus the amount of time you need to get there.”

For situations where the traveler isn’t going to make his or her flight, FCM is building the capability to “proactively rebook to secure a seat on the next plane.” The app would use the global distribution system and mid-office software to request availability using “company rules, policy, preferred suppliers and specific fare agreements,” according to Staelen.

Staelen in 2006 co-founded 3Mundi, whose Barcelona-based innovation lab has been building technology for the FCM Sam app, released last year. FCM last week announced it bought a 25 percent stake in the company, which also runs TMCs in France and Switzerland that became FCM affiliates in 2015.

Jordy Staelen, managing director of FCM Travel Solutions France and Switzerland

Staelen said 3Mundi’s algorithm works in the same way when flights are disrupted. “If everyone is delayed or cancelled, the faster you get in, the faster you get on the next plane,” he said.

Sam just graduated to version 2.0 on iOS. Now also on Android, the app is newly available through Flight Centre brands Campus Travel and small-business specialist Corporate Traveler.

The new version added city maps and mini-guides, bag carousel info and an updated design.

FC USA corporate brands chief strategy officer John Morhous said Sam’s biggest challenges since launch last summer have been more practical than technical. “Believe it or not, actually demonstrating it has been one of the bigger challenges,” he said.

The company built into the app an internal demo triggered by a cheat code so representatives can easily show it. Training those reps also has taken some work, he said.

“Probably the biggest thing we’re still wrestling with is how to most effectively market the tool to travelers,” said Morhous. “It’s a classic challenge in FCM. We have relationships with travel managers, who are the gateway to travelers.”

Nevertheless, he said, usage is doubling each month.

“Overall customer feedback has been extremely positive, but it takes a while to get people using the app,” Morhous continued. “Some customers have high adoption, others are still trying to get more users on the system.”

Hotel bookings powered by nuTravel have yet to roll out, but will soon, he said.

Staelen said the lab in Barcelona works exclusively for FCM in the TMC field but develops technology for other segments in travel. It also builds data reporting technology, portal and profile solutions and enterprise software integration.

Additional info: 3Mundi claimed about 115 staff in Barcelona, Geneva and Paris. Clients include Fives Group, the French National Centre for Scientific Research and PricewaterhouseCoopers. FCM also holds ownership stakes in partners in Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

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Author: Jay Campbell

Jay Campbell in 2004 created travel business newsletter The Beat, in 2006 co-founded Travel Procurement magazine and in 2010 integrated them into Northstar Travel Media's BTN Group. He served as editorial director until 2013. Jay made his travel industry media debut in 1993 at the Air Travel Journal of Boston while earning his undergraduate degree in journalism at Boston University. More on LinkedIn.